BC again raids unlicensed cannabis shops on K’ómoks First Nation

Fri, May 10

Several unlicensed cannabis stores in Comox, BC, faced enforcement action by members of the province’s Community Safety Unit (CSU) on May 9.

The raid is the second in the community this year, the first taking place in February. Stores had products, cash, and equipment seized before quickly re-opening. The enforcement action included a presence from the BC RCMP.

In an open letter posted May 9, the elected Chief and Council of the K’ómoks First Nation say they are disappointed by the CSU’s actions and the provincial government.

“The Province and RCMP’s actions are challenging, as they are not allowing the time for our community to work through the process needed to find a path forward on cannabis that makes sense for our Nation. We are frustrated that the Province and RCMP are prioritizing these enforcement actions when we know we have other significant community safety issues they are not supporting us with, like trespass, criminal activities, and animal control on our Lands.”

Chief and council also question why their community is facing repeated enforcement while other communities appear to go untouched. They say they are working with another First Nations-owned cannabis retail chain, Unity Cannabis, which operates a handful of provincially licensed stores in BC, on identifying a path forward.

“In addition, it seems the Province is applying enforcement against unregulated cannabis shops inconsistently across BC. It seems like K’omoks is being unfairly targeted, bearing a higher burden than other Nations, and that’s not right.”

The province’s actions like today’s create a bigger divide in our community and do not allow us the space and time to work through this process without provocation.

“We continue to work with Unity Cannabis to identify and flesh out meaningful options for our community to move forward, rooted in input and feedback from our members. We are also committed to working with shop owners. We will continue to voice our concerns with the Province and advocate for our Nation. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to this situation, and the process takes time.”

A representative from Unity was not immediately available for comment.

This is a shift from council’s statements following the raid in February, which remained more neutral and referred to provincial jurisdiction when it comes to retail cannabis licensing. 

Rob Laurie, a lawyer who represents one of the cannabis stores facing such enforcement actions, The Buddery, says he’s not seen anything in the form of penalties from the previous raids.  

“They still haven’t done anything from the first raids in February, but they did indicate that if they have to come back again, they’ll serve warrants.”

“For whatever reason,” continues Laurie, “they are just not taking the same degree of enforcement against the Indigenous operators as they would against non-Indigenous. And I think that’s similar to the test cases with dispensaries in the City of Vancouver, they’re taking a cautious approach because what if they’re wrong? What if the courts agree with the Indigenous community, not the government.”

The province has shared a similar perspective on the subject.

Although the BC Government has long taken the position that BC’s Cannabis Act is a “law of general application” that applies to all of British Columbia, including First Nations’ land, the province’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth has said in the past that there is a concern that this interpretation could be “tested” by actions such as enforcement that could be interpreted differently by the courts. 

There are three unlicensed cannabis stores operating within K’ómoks First Nation. One of those stores, The Buddery, was again open for business on May 10, a day after the enforcement action. The other two stores did not answer their phones.